What Else?

Nothing but the Whistle and the Steam

Nothing but the Whistle and the Steam

You. Stop. Right Now. Whatever else you are doing, besides reading these words, and I know you’re doing something else, stop. In a world where multitasking is the norm and dealing with disparate desires and duties is the only way to survive, simply doing one thing feels foolish, wasteful. Perhaps, to you, it even feels sinful. Trust me, just for a minute, read on.

Long ago our lives were simpler, though not easier, circumscribed by our farm, ranch, church, religion, village, community, cohort or group. We knew what we thought, what we believed and how to act and react in any and all situations. We knew this because everyone around us knew this and we learned it with our mother’s milk, as the saying goes. Since we thereby knew what our living, our day-to-day, entailed, what our lives were about, we knew we were alive, filled a role in our group and were essential to the whole. When change occurred in the greater world, the news arrived on the lips of strangers, wanderers, mendicants, tinkers, soldiers, beggars or someone else we did not know. When we heard this news, we reacted according to the unspoken, unwritten rules of our limited and limiting communities. Except sometimes this news shattered our view of life and our world and we became the wanderers.

…we learned it with our mother’s milk, as the saying goes.

Today our lives are more complex, though not harder. We have the families we are born to and the families we choose. We seek out groups to guide us, governments, armies, churches, organizations, companies, the like minded people we call our friends and most anything or anyone we believe will give our lives meaning. Often these groups have fallen short of our expectations, yet we need this sense of belonging, to prove we are alive and that we matter. In the words of a Judy Collins’ song, “…we must barter our lives to make sure we are living.”

So in today’s complex existence we dive into the ocean of the super community of the whole world and swim like mad to keep from going under. Every day our lives are filled with tweeting, texting, email, emoticons, ebooks, tablets, pads, smart phones, on demand, instant internet access, and constant information. The WWW of the World Wide Web is fading from the internet addresses we access, but remains a most apt description of the volume and scope of our interaction. Many of us wonder how we will ever be able to keep current with all of the essential threads we weave together into the fabric and meaning of our lives.

We need to know what family, friends, various acquaintances ate for dinner, lunch, breakfast, midnight snack, how they are sleeping, if they are sleeping, what they think of their new, old, current partner, teacher, student, colleague, job, book/eBook, CD, DVD, app, house, apartment, condo, restaurant, clothing, shoes, exercise routine, toothpaste and myriad other details. We must approve or disapprove, enjoy or detest their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, pets, happy, sad, weird, funny things they did, adventures had and anecdotes shared. We are asked to like, share, comment on awards won, teeth lost, causes, lost causes and more besides.

There are people in our group who bring smiles, tears, joy, anger, confusion, clarity, news and opinion. Some ask that we pray for them or others, some ask us to play online games (and how else will we find the best, discuss them with our friends and compete in order to blot out the harsher parts of our lives?). Some suggest apps, share their religious leanings or doctrine. We need to know who’s in chronic pain, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, conservative, liberal, funny, serious, in-the-know or totally clueless. We need to be current, hella, hip, wicked, sick, (or whatever other terms have or will replace these) aware of the latest meme and which stories are the most interesting, sweet or lurid.  We follow news feeds, blogs, texts and tweets to learn what is happening in our group, which means the whole world. We learn of murder, mayhem, meltdowns, war, plague, super storms, hurricanes, tornados, monsoons, tsunamis, rapes, riots and revolutions.

We follow our heroes, reality personalities, wannabes, idols, film-, television-, rock-stars, athletes and even politicians. We heckle our villains, reality personalities, wannabes, idols, film-, television-, rock-stars, athletes and even politicians. We root for our home teams and boo the bums they’re clobbering, or wail if this is reversed. Whether it’s football, baseball, hockey, soccer, tennis, hurling, curling, lacrosse, bowling, racing or fighting in all their forms, we are avid in our praise, sage in our analysis and scathing in our criticism. We connect through streaming, television, radio, tablets, pads, and phones. We form fantasy leagues and betting pools so we can simulate the thrill of the players and owners.

How can we be expected to only do one thing at a time?

All this happens at the same time we are going to work, school, dropping off or picking up our cleaning, groceries or our children at school, after-school programs, practices, games and lessons.  Plus, we must pay our bills, clean our houses, wash our cars, our pets, our hair, ourselves, perform maintenance or replacement of the necessary components of our lives. How can we be expected to only do one thing at a time?

We are all already so incredibly busy we need to find something to eliminate. So I have left this element of our existence, of our daily lives until the last. I believe we must eliminate high art and culture. To clarify, I’m referring to the art found in museums and churches, to classical music, theater, opera and ballet, highbrow television, art for art’s sake. Although this may have once helped us define our world and our place in it, giving us direction when the world was a smaller place, that time has passed.

Wouldn’t we be better served to use our museums and galleries as homeless shelters, work houses or prisons, or to reintroduce debtor’s prisons? We could tear down our theaters and concert halls and build neighborhoods. They can be basic and built with inferior materials, because when the gap between the rich and poor grows still wider and the middle class disappears, we will need housing for vast groups of people. These are people who should thank us for again creating a community where all can share the experience and know their place in the world. Whether 0or not we go to museums, theaters or concert halls, they impinge upon our lives.

Do you really want to see your children suffer the agonies of an artistic life?

We see references in advertising; we support non-productive members of our society with grants, behests and other free money. Through our taxes, we pay to build elaborate edifices which serve no practical purpose. Yet we pay homage by signing our children up for music, acting, ballet, art and other useless classes and unnecessary extracurricular activities so they can pretend, in their youth, that they among millions have a chance. It would be one thing if even half, a quarter, of these pastimes would result in a decent future income for our children. Do you really want to see your children suffer the agonies of an artistic life, become drunks, addicts or worse?

So pastimes, past times, aptly name these frivolous pursuits. Long ago, work was grueling and diversions, cheap or free entertainment, were sought to ease the pain of miserable lives. Perhaps we might even get a chance to throw rotten vegetables at players who lived barely a rung above our own status. Now such diversions are expensive time wasters that drains away moments of our desperately busy lives. Why would we need or want to go anywhere we had to be isolated for two or more hours, unable to talk, text, or connect in any way, when we can see as good or better in the privacy of our own piece of temporary real estate. Even movies, other than those we watch on television, stream, view on our computers, pads, tablets or phones, are suspect.

I’m not suggesting eliminating sports. They both sublimate our aggressions and prepare us to respond to the aggression of others. Our world, our culture has become more dangerous. We want our children in environments where we believe they are safe, recent school massacres to the contrary. Think, if your son or daughter learned about guns, weapons and self defense. If we made military service mandatory at a much younger age and for a longer period we might discover many of our problems would disappear. Crazed individuals would not even think about targeting a school, stadium or church and forget about home invasions. What a bonus. (see also: An Immodest Proposal)

Or imagine your offspring in practical after-school activities, tutored as a carpenter, plumber or electrician. They could become much more productive citizens while gaining the potential for an excellent and steady income. No longer would you be forced to listen to the screech of the violin, the warble of would-be divas, the blat of the trumpet, trombone, tuba, ratta-ta-tat of percussion, nor the missed notes, the whining and wingeing when you must force them to practice.

Instead, they might unclog the kitchen drain, replace the broken toilet, rewire the lamp or put up the shelving you’ve thought about since forever. When do you ever have the time to tackle these projects or to learn the necessary skills or earn the money to hire someone else to do them? Or, we could teach them practical skills that are never taught in our schools anymore. We could enroll them in cooking or sewing classes, not expecting them to seek a career, but to be able to survive as the USA’s infrastructure continues to crumble. Nor will the USA be alone.

In the short term, before our world turns to shit, they might learn to manage debt, track their purchases (balancing a checking account, even money have become passé) or more practical skills, hacking, grifting, survival training, which will help them circumvent a society stacked against them. A world where the wealthy hold power and the powerful do everything they can to keep us ignorant, uneducated and distracted with trivia; a world where those at the top breed passive, uninformed sheep to support their extravagant lifestyle.

These are just my thoughts and I’ve certainly kept you away from other important tasks, information or connections. Thank you for your time. I hope you found this interruption worthwhile. Feel free to go back to whatever else you were doing.

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